MOGADISHU: African Union (AU) troops fighting Somalia’s Al Shabaab insurgents have pulled back from several key towns following a series of attacks by the Al Qaeda-affiliated militants, local officials said on Friday.
The withdrawal, a rare retreat after AU troops seized swathes of territory from the militants, includes the towns of Qoryoley and Awdhegele, which have since been taken over by Shabab in Somalia’s southern Lower Shabelle region.
The militants have stepped up their attacks during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
“They pulled out of Qoryoley, there is not a single soldier left behind,” local government official Mohamed Haji Osman said.
Residents reported that the Shabab had since moved in and hoisted their black flag over the town, some 80km southwest of the capital Mogadishu. “Shabab fighters entered the town and their flag is flying over the district headquarters. All AMISOM and Somali troops pulled out,” said resident Ahmed Hassan.
Awdhegele district commissioner Mohamed Aweys said he left the town after soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) retreated. “This is a complete setback because Al Shabab is gaining ground,” he said.
Last week, the Shabab attacked an Amisom base in Lego village, 100km northwest of the capital Mogadishu, manned by around 100 Burundian soldiers.
The Shabab later boasted of having killed 80 soldiers and carried off the bodies of 60 of them, before setting the base on fire.
Video images taken by the Shabab and seen by AFP show several bodies scattered around the ransacked base, with one shot showing around a dozen bodies lined up.